Projections - Movie Reviews



In Songcatcher it's hard not to appreciate the solid work of English actress Janet McTeer and the folk music which resonates through the hinterlands of 1907 Appalachia even if the feel-good independent picture can't eschew melodrama.  It probably won't connect with more critical, less traditional types, but it deserves praise for how it espouses a sincerity of love for music of hill folk.

Off the bat, after conducting a class as pianist instructor, McTeer's prudish musicologist Dr. Lilly Penleric is informed by the Dean of an Eastern university that she's been denied academic promotion in favor of one esteemed musical collegiate - Dr. Cyrus Whittle, who doesn't appear until the final moments of Songcatcher.  Maggie Greenwald directs McTeer to harness her frustration into an independent ruggedness to find a rustic approach to get the attention of a chauvinistic review board as she heads to the remote mountains with an antiquated, bulky recording device.

What catches the academic visitor off guard is how prevalent music is to these mountain people, perceived as a bit primitive, and Professor Aldrich (Michael Goodman) thinks Lily is a little off kilter to say the least for living with these people.  Greenwald wants us to believe in Lily's dedication as she moves the bulky tools over high terrain to Bear Creak with an orphan from Clover, Emmy Rossum's pretty and engaging Deladis and her capricious, disagreeable boyfriend, Fate.

Pat Carroll's Viney is an elderly woman who refuses to be paid for her assistance to Lily and it upsets her grandson and twice-over-widower Tom, sensitively portrayed by Aidan Quinn.  He looks at Lily as an unwanted gleaner from the city.

The irony that Lily faces is one of being caught up in a culture that she wants to keep vibrant though its bountiful, almost religious musicianship, but susceptible to a secular capitalistic progress certain to clear out some of the mountains for more railroads, even schools.

In this trite, yet appealing rural tale with a brawl at a barn dance were Lily gets a buzz on moonshine, McTeer assuredly gives Lily a presence that works well from within rather than facial changes that reflects a kind of spiritual rebirth.

Greenwald senses the power of the ballads which would influence the likes of Dylan and Baez.  Songcatcher is a worthy period drama that combines the feeling that "you've come a long way baby" with a deeper appreciation of music history.


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